Friday, 28 March 2014

Project "Public events, public spaces"

If you ever find yourself short of things to do on Boxing Day and wishing you could do something different from the usual 'family lunch and walk' set routine, head for Grantchester. I won't be the first person recommending this, the Guardian got there first! Here is a link to their 'Where to go bonkers on Boxing Day' articles where Grantchester Barrel Rolling is mentioned:

Grantchester Boxing Day Barrel Rolling dates back to 60s and is very popular now.The event is well organised and is fun to attend. There are teams from Grantchester and the nearby villages competing for the prices and the day ends with a jolly celebration in the local pubs.

Why not come next year to see for yourself?

This set of images is from the last Barrel Race - all images were shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and a choice of zoom lenses with focal length ranging from 40 mm to 200 mm.
The day was still and overcast but dry providing almost perfect conditions for photographing people at the race (no strong shadows on faces, manageable levels of contrast).
The whole event lasts about 45 minutes so you have to be quick and ready for action. There are also a lot of people attending so it might be hard to work out the best positions. The races happen one after the other in a fast succession so there isn't much time to think and re-adjust.
The event is a great opportunity to catch some good shots of the races but also the people watching the action - Grantchester is a great spot for people watching as it draws in a lot of interesting and eccentric characters.

I took many shots trying to vary the angles and my position. I am including a selection of images below with some commentary.
My aim was to create a series of around 10 images that would work together and narrate the story line of this event. To achieve that, I included some general images to show the activity in the context of the place as well as some close-up shots of participants and the viewers. I tried to follow the sequence of the event as much as possible when organizing my collection. I used some black and white images as a link to the long-standing tradition of this event. Some things never stay the same and other things don't seem to change at all - I think that some of these images look timeless and it might be easy to mistake them for those taken many years ago
Image 1.

This general shot gives a viewer an overview of the place, the event and the people taking part in it. It is amazing how much information can be picked up and understood from a single shot! I like the strong sense of anticipation and suspense that the low angle has created. It was taken with a zoom lens set at 60 mm. I chose 1/250 sec setting at F 8 and 400 ISO to compensate for the movements. 

Image 2.

This image brings us right to the 'front-line' and the starting point of the race. Comparing to the first image, it is almost as if you jump from being a viewer to a race participant - the fact that this change is instant helps to convey the sense of the moment when the race starts. To make it real, sharp and active, I chose to keep the colours. 

The image was taken with a zoom lens set at 24 mm, then cropped at the post-production stage. I used 1/125 sec exposure at F 8 and 400 ISO to compensate for the movements. 

Image 3.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Project: Standard focal length

I use standard focal length quite a lot in people and street photography. I like the fact that the proportions and viewpoints appear natural and less distorted than when using a wide-angle lens. When out with my camera, I usually have at least one standard ;lens with me at all times. This time I had my Canon 5D MII with a 45 to 70 mm zoom lens. 

Image 1

I asked the lady's permission to take her photos as I thought she and her dog looked spectacular. This image was taken with a 50 mm focal length. I tried to use the natural lines formed by the window frame and the wall immediately behind the lady to lead the viewer's gaze to the main subject. I decided to position them at an angle to the lens (so the lady's feet are not facing the camera and the dog is facing the other way) to match the directions of the natural lines within the frame. I think this helped to make the (otherwise quite a simple and straightforward) image more interesting. In post-production, I decided to go for a single-tone version to enhance the natural lines within the frame. 
It was easy to approach the lady and she was happy to give me the permission to take the photos. We ended up chatting about her dog and dogs in general and I felt it was really nice to connect to her for a brief moment. 

Images 2, 3 and 4 were taken at an outdoor community project launch event in Cambridge. I took some photos of the Community Support Police Officers talking to passer-byes.
For these images I set my camera to 1/125 sec at f/ 5.6, ISO 50 as I wanted to get bright images with fine grain. The natural light was sufficient for me to keep the ISO setting low at 50. I used an equivalent of 50 mm focal length for these shots.
I had plenty of time and space to work out the best position and framing so in terms of composition I am pleased with how the images turned out. Good natural light also meant that it was easy to set the camera white balance setting so there wasn't a need for any colour correction work at a post-production stage. Using a standard lens meant that there was no need for any adjustments to the perspective etc as all the proportions and lines within the frames were natural.

Images 5 and 6 were taken at the Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge.
The day was overcast so I had to push the ISO setting up to 200. I used the equivalent of 50 mm focal length for these shots.
The camera exposure settings were 1/180 at f/ 6.7. I deliberately tilted the camera for Image 5 to create a sense of movement although my subject was not moving (only pretending to ride the knitted bike!). Using the standard focal length meant that I was standing at a comfortable distance - not too close and not too far and was able to communicate to the 'rider'.

I spotted these two girls chatting along whilst waiting for their turn to perform. I did not want to intimidate them too much with my camera but as I was already standing quite close to them my standard lens was all that I needed for this shot. I like that the image includes some other brightly dressed people on the background and I think that this helps to convey the atmosphere of the event.

Taking a photo of the girls with a telephoto lens would create quite a different effect as the background details would likely to be blurred. I am including a photo taken with a 200 mm telephoto lens below to demonstrate the difference. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Project: Medium Telephoto. Standing back.

For this exercise I found myself image hunting in London and Grantchester. I used my Canon 5D MII and a 70 to 200 mm lens. I took quite a variety of shots on these days and am including a small selection to demonstrate the benefits of using a telephoto lens. 

Image 1
This image was taken in the village of Grantchester on an overcast day. There was a well-attended village event on the day so the place was crowded with people, dogs, cars and children. This kind of environment makes it easier to approach the chosen subject so it was not difficult for me to spot these two wonderfully reach characters conversing at a table. The couple was so preoccupied with their conversion that they did not pay much attention to what was happening around them. Using the telephoto lens allowed me to stay at a safe distance and go annotated. `i made a number of images and I selected this one because I liked the way the smoke was raising from the pipe. I also liked the intense face expressions of the two characters. I opened up the aperture and increased my shutter speed to freeze the moment. To make my key subjects stand out of the immediate background (which happened to be busy and noisy with colours and shapes) I decided to make the image black and white. I think this worked quite well. 

Image 2

This image was taken in London. The morning sun threw a perfect long shadow across the street and I was quite far away when I spotted the opportunity. The two people enjoying some coffee and a cigarette we quite nervous about being photographed. So I turned my camera to the side whilst adjusting the aperture and working on the camera settings. I wanted to wait for the cigarette smoke to appear in the sun light. I kept my camera ready but pretended not to look towards the couple. When I spotted the right mount I raised the camera quickly and fired a few shots, then moved away. I chosen this image as the smoke was clearly visible in the sun light enhancing the atmosphere of the scene.
I really enjoyed catching the moment with the additional challenge of not showing much interest prior to the shot. I will definitely use this technique in the future if people are anxious or nervous about my camera. Again, I decided to make the image black and white to focus on the smoke, the sun light and shadows.

Image 3

This is my second image of the 'Beer conversation in Grantchester'. I think it catches very well the tension and the emotions of the interaction. The atmosphere of the scene is quite intense and this keeps the focus on the conversation and the main characters, their hands and faces despite the fact that there is no eye contact with the viewer.  In post production, I darkened the edges and corners of the image to draw the attention to the centre.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Project Wide-angle: close and involved

Wide-angle lens is invaluable in reportage and street photography as it allows to take in a much more of the surroundings and by doing so, it helps to tell the story. This could represent a challenge for the photographer  because of the need and the necessity to get quite close to the subject.

For this exercise I decided to push my own boundaries and try to get as close as possible to someone who I have never met before to take photos as a close range with a wide-angle lens. I realised that the task was challenging and that I might not succeed but nevertheless decided to have a go, even if my attempt does not bring the desired results. 

I happened to walk into St Pancras train station to witness a very interesting and totally spontaneous event. A man with a child in a push chair stopped to listen to a lady playing a piano. They were obviously total strangers but the baby's reaction to the music and her singing  somehow brought them together to enjoy the music for a brief moment. I jumped on the chance to take some photos asking their permission first - by that time both the man and the woman were so excited and enjoying the moment that they waived at me happily.

I used my Canon 5D Mark II with a 16 to 35 mm wide angle zoom lens. I had to open the aperture and change ISO to 800 to make up for the lack of light and my constantly moving and active subjects. I found that I could not use the wide-angle lens at its widest point (16 mm) even if I wanted to as at 29 I was already so close to my subject that the piano was stopping me to get any closer! Amazingly, the couple continued enjoying themselves despite the fact that my camera lens was at such a close range to them! I tried to use both vertical and horizontal framing to compensate for inability to move around my subjects - unfortunately once the position was chosen there seemed to be no way of walking to the other side without upsetting the whole harmony of the image. 

Image 1

I tried to use the length of the piano as a natural line when framing this shot. I wanted this line to lead from the lady piano player to the man and the baby creating a connection between my subjects. I thought this was important as they weren't looking at each other. I've chosen this image because the man's stretched hand formed another line making the composition of the image even stronger. 
I also liked the matching red scarves and the sense of movement in the top part of the photo.  

Image 2

Thursday, 6 March 2014

People and Place: Capturing the moment

Capturing the moment is one of the joys and  ultimate challenges for every photographer.
Karl Lagerfeld said that photographs "capture a moment that's gone forever, impossible to reproduce." 

Every moment is unique and precious. People are also different and so some photographs might appeal to one viewer more than to another. Training your eye to choose and capture the moment  that works best as an image is therefore important. 
I love the quote by Susan Sontag who once said that “all photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” 
At my recent visit to St Pancras Station in London I took some photos of a man playing a piano.  This was a totally spontaneous situation which lasted only a few minutes so I had to respond very quickly. I did not want to interrupt the music but felt that I need somehow ask for a permission to take photos. I stood at the distance and took out my camera. I then waited a little to catch the man's attention and when he looked at me I raised the camera indicating that I'd like to take some photos of him. He nodded and smiled back so I proceeded with taking photos. 
I had my Canon 5D Mark II with me and two zoom lenses. We were inside the station so I had to think carefully but quickly about the available light.  My subject was moving so I decided to raise ISO to 400 to compensate for the luck of light. With most of my photos I stayed within the 73 mm to 100 mm focal range bracket. 
Deciding what my captured moment should be: 
Below is a print screen of the images uploaded in Lightroom. 

I think it is very important to be aware of the vulnerability, mortality and fluidity of the moment of life (whether it contains a person, event or an object) that takes place in front of your camera. 

I had to think on my feet and decide very quickly on my position in relation to the pianist. I quickly assessed the setting and made my decision based on the following: 
I did not have much time to walk around the pianist
I liked the combination of the colours and shades of the shop windows behind the pianist - I thought that it would make a very suitable background
This helped me to decide to stay on the right hand side of the pianist. I set my white balance, change the ISO and started shooting in AP mode. 
Whilst taking photos I looked out for the eye contact with the pianist, for some interesting clusters of some passer-bys, for matching colours (e.g. passer-bys and in the background). 

After reviewing my images, I made a selection of the following four.

Image 1

Monday, 3 March 2014

People unaware: Developing your confidence

I am starting working on the exercises for the OCA assignment two, People and Place module. 
The title of this assignment is 'People unaware' and the focus is on reportage and street photography. This is quite different from the Assignment One where the main body of work was based around a more or less formal studio set up. So with this assignment we are moving away from a highly controlled environment where the photographer envisage the shot, sets the rules, instructs the model and then makes the visualised image a reality. We are moving away from studio lights and cameras on tripods. 
We are moving to being on the go, on foot, with the bare minimum of equipment, capturing some fluid life moments. This brief seems very different from the assignment one and I think that in many ways it is different but there are also certain similarities. Whether we are on foot and with a small shoulder bag or in a big studio with three point lighting set up, we are still there to capture the perfect moment. We are there to observe the fluid and constantly changing world in front of us and spot that perfect moment to press the shutter. 

Project A of the assignment two is called ' A comfortable situation' and it is about starting to getting used to photographing people whom you have not asked in advance. The brief suggests to identify and use an easier public setting where people might expect others to take photos or might not pay too much attention to a photo camera. 

A perfect opportunity to fit with the brief of this exercise presented itself on my recent trip to Copenhagen.  
I came across a fenced up building site right in the city centre. The fence was coloured bright green and some angel wings were painted on it. There was a little note on the fence inviting passer-bys to take photos and share them on a website. 

The first thing I noticed was that people were rushing about without even noticing the angel wings on the fence but as soon as one person stops and takes their camera out, other people would also stop and join in taking photos of their 'winged' friends against the colourful fence. This spontaneous photo shoot would not last long - only a few moments - only to return to the usual busy pace of city life. 
Most of those people who stopped were so absorbed by posing or taking pictures that they did not pay any attention to me taking photos of them. It was a perfect moment to enjoy the street photography without the associated hard looks that some people sometimes give you.  

I took a number of photographs using my Canon Mark II. I had two zoom lenses with me giving me the combined focal range of 16 to 105 mm. The day was cloudy so there were no direct harsh sunlight to compensate on. I used the custom camera white balance facility to establish the correct exposure. I tried to walk about and change the position and angle as much as possible. I also switched between the lenses a couple of times varying the focal length. I set my camera to f 6.7 as I did not want the background to be consistently sharp (I wanted to make my main subject stand out a bit more). 

Post-production: I used Adobe Lightroom to review the images and make a selection for this exercise. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Varying the pose

I had a session with my friend Nathan that was specifically dedicated to different postures. I used a black background in my home studio and we tried a number of sitting and standing positions. I also took some close up photos with various hand positions. I am including a selection of images here that I thought were interesting to share. 

 I thought this was a very natural gesture and I was pleased to capture it though it probably has a very limited use in studio photography.
 This posture looks a little tense.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Using Scrapbook and the beauty of Creative review

I have been enjoying my new scrapbook as part of my work on the assignments for my OCA course. I've been lucky also to get hold of a big pile of Creative Review back copies through the local freecycle network. What a joy it has been to leaf through the old magazines and pick up ideas and inspiration!

I usually spend an evening before completing each course exercise looking through the magazines. I cut some photos for the scrapbook to remind me of those images that triggered some interesting ideas and made me think - anything that I'd like to follow up or develop as a project. This is now one of the favourite parts of my project work flow.

I will scan the pages of my scrapbook and post them on my blog for my own reference and to bookmark my work in progress later this month.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Focal length

I took these images at a local community event using two different zoom lenses. It was always not possible for me to get close enough to my subject so I relied on my telephoto zoom to get some close up shots of people.
This photo was taken with a 90 mm lens. 

Experimenting with light

My friend Nathan agreed to be my sitter for this exercise and I spent over an hour experimenting with various light settings at my home studio.

1. A spot light is placed to the right of the camera. The sitter is positioned 45 degrees to the camera and is facing the key light. This set up gives strong deep shadows on the left side. It could be quite dramatic.